As North Carolina moved one step closer to its goal of redemption, the man who denied the Tar Heels a year ago watched from just behind the bench. With Villanova eliminated from the tournament, Kris Jenkins flew out with the families to cheer on Nate Britt, his adoptive brother, a juxtaposition that may seem strange to outsiders but entirely natural to the Tar Heels.
Jenkins even played some pick-up ball with Britt and his teammates in Chapel Hill this summer, while the mental anguish from his national-title game-winner was still fresh. With his quest for a repeat finished, he flew west to watch Britt and the Tar Heels continue their quest for the title Jenkins denied them a year ago.
“I’m pretty sure fans think it’s pretty weird,” Britt said, “and people who aren’t in the team family of Carolina and haven’t been around him as much as the team and I have, I think that could be weird.”
But the bonds of family are stronger than the conflict of last year’s national title game, painful as it may have been for North Carolina, as Kennedy Meeks noted with rare sanguinity.
“It’s just a shot,” Meeks said. “You can’t really harp on him beating us in the championship.”
Some of that is because the Tar Heels knew Jenkins well long before their paths collided in Houston. Jenkins was in Philadelphia to watch North Carolina play Notre Dame in the Elite 8, Villanova’s trip to Houston secured, and Britt went to Brooklyn last year over Thanksgiving play to watch Jenkins. And then a few days ago, Britt found out Jenkins would be coming to Memphis. And there he was, sitting behind the UNC bench for Friday’s 92-80 win over Butler.
“Me, him and Nate are in a group chat together,” Meeks said. “He’s pretty close to most of us. He’s here supporting his brother, and we’re kind of like his brothers too. It was good to see him behind the bench. Of course, he wanted to keep playing, but it didn’t work out that way. He’s definitely doing a great job of supporting us, and we appreciate it.”
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock